November 17, 2017

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Into the Wild: Animals | Series Nonfiction

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1604SMS-Animals-WildMaintaining a high-quality collection of animal books requires a variety of resources. Purchasing multiple books on popular animals makes sense. Finding even a single title on an unusual creature, like a lamprey or an assassin bug, can be a success. Students often request information on broader topics, such as ecosystems or animal predation. For some readers, the gruesome side of animal life can be a draw, while others just want to learn all they can about a single species. The series below include examples of all of the above. Many sets merit purchase, but, not surprisingly, some are more worthy than others. The best offerings feature strong combinations of textual and visual appeal, well-organized content that leads readers to build and synthesize knowledge, and topical coverage that matches the sensibilities of report writers or browsers, or, even better, both.

Elementary

Abbott, Henry. Buzzards. ISBN 9781 508142386; ISBN 9781508142362; ISBN 9781508142393.

Bates, Matthew. Hawks. ISBN 9781 508142492; ISBN 9781508142485; ISBN 9781508142508.

Chung, Liz. Vultures. ISBN 9781508142737; ISBN 9781508142546; ISBN 9781 508142744.

Danielson, Ethan. Owls. ISBN 9781 508142522; ISBN 9781508142720; ISBN 9781508142539.

Jennings, Rosemary. Eagles. ISBN 9781 508142423; ISBN 9781508142409; ISBN 9781508142430.

Wilson, Emily. Falcons. ISBN 9781 508142454; ISBN 9781508142713; ISBN 9781508142461.

ea vol: 24p. (Raptors!). glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2016. lib. ed. $23.60. pap. $8.25. ebk. $23.60.

Gr 3-5 –Each title opens with a general introduction to raptors, then examines the specific qualities of each group. Logically organized text moves from physical qualities, such as talons and eyesight, to the behaviors that they enhance, like hunting. Varieties of species and locations within a group are noted. Transitions from the general group to one or two species, such as the bald eagle and golden eagle, are handled with clarity and focus. Coverage includes flight, hunting, habitats, and babies, though rarely with much depth. The use of air currents in flight, for example, is mentioned but not explored, and migration is not mentioned at all—many raptors don’t migrate, but some do, especially hawks. Full-page photographs are a good mixture of birds flying, hunting, and feeding, and still body views. They depict a variety of species, about half of which are identified. Some photos highlight body features such as talons or beaks, though usually not with close-up views. VERDICT Solid introductions to popular birds.

Borgert-Spaniol, Megan. Black Widow Spiders. ISBN 9781626172999; ISBN 9781681031248.

––––. Praying Mantises. ISBN 9781 626173002; ISBN 9781681031255.

––––. Slugs. ISBN 9781626173019; ISBN 9781681031262.

––––. Ticks. ISBN 9781626173026; ISBN 9781681031279.

ea vol: 24p. (Creepy Crawlies). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bellwether. 2016. lib. ed. $22.95. ebk. $22.95.

K-Gr 2 –With one or two sentences per page, these titles provide first introductions to tiny but interesting creatures. Most of the text covers body features and general behaviors, with just the most basic level of information. Close-up photographs support the words effectively. The black widow’s fangs and a slug eating a leaf are among several eye-catching excellent examples; biting ticks are less appealing but equally useful. Sentence structure and most vocabulary are aimed at new readers. Bolded words refer to the glossary at the end, although in some cases the captioned image offers sufficient visual context. Readers won’t find much detail or depth, but there are just enough facts to engage curiosity, along with attractive visuals and readability levels that are on target for new readers. VERDICT Fairly high appeal at a basic level just right for early elementary readers.

Chilson, Martin. In Search of Great White Sharks. ISBN 9781508143413; ISBN 9781508143390; ISBN 9781508143420.

Dempski, Seth. In Search of Blue Sharks. ISBN 9781508143338; ISBN 9781508143314; ISBN 9781508143345.

Hopper, Whitney. In Search of Bull Sharks. ISBN 9781508143376; ISBN 9781508143352; ISBN 9781508143383.

McAneney, Caitie. In Search of Whale Sharks. ISBN 9781508143536; ISBN 9781508143512; ISBN 9781508143543.

Phelps, Bonnie. In Search of Mako Sharks. ISBN 9781508143451; ISBN 9781508143437; ISBN 9781508143468.

Reynolds, Shaye. In Search of Tiger Sharks. ISBN 9781508143499; ISBN 9781508143475; ISBN 9781508143505.

ea vol: 24p. (Shark Search). glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2016. lib. ed. $23.60. pap. $8.25. ebk. $23.60.

Gr 3-5 –Shark books are often in demand, and this set covers the basics fairly well. Each spread features a full-page photograph opposite a couple paragraphs of text on a general topic. Physical features, including identification tips, are followed by geographic range, hunting, birth, potential danger to humans, and conservation status. A concluding “Shark Bites” page offers five or six further interesting facts. The writing is crisp and informative, capturing a bit of the excitement of the fish without overdoing it. Photographs are serviceable, showing some variety of activity, a bit of visual comparison to other sharks, and one labeled view of key body parts. Close-ups of physiological features such as teeth are scarce, and most lack scenes of sharks hunting or capturing prey. Range maps are provided for the species with defined areas. VERDICT Solid but not stellar introductions to a high-interest topic.

Clay, Kathryn. Ankylosaurus and Other Armored Dinosaurs: The Need-To-Know Facts. ISBN 9781491496466; ISBN 9781491496534.

––––. Stegosaurus and Other Plated Dinosaurs: The Need-To-Know Facts. ISBN 9781491496480; ISBN 9781491496558.

––––. Triceratops and Other Horned Dinosaurs: The Need-To-Know Facts. ISBN 9781491496497; ISBN 9781491496565.

Peterson, Megan Cooley. Tyrannosaurus Rex and Its Relatives: The Need-To-Know Facts. ISBN 9781491496503; ISBN 9781491496572.

Rissman, Rebecca. Brachiosaurus and Other Big Long-Necked Dinosaurs: The Need-to-Know Facts. ISBN 9781491496473; ISBN 9781491496541.

––––. Velociraptor and Other Raptors: The Need-to-Know Facts. ISBN 9781491496510; ISBN 9781491496589.

ea vol: 32p. (Dinosaur Fact Dig). chart. further reading. glossary. photos. websites. Capstone. 2016. lib. ed. $19.99. pap. $7.95.

Gr 2-4 –Each title profiles a dozen or so related dinosaurs with a list of facts and full-page digital illustrations. A corner fact box lists basic data, including pronunciation and meaning of names, time period, size, diet, and key physical features. Assorted fact boxes scattered within each spread offer additional information related to fossil discoveries, physical characteristics, and species behavior. Though the dinosaurs in each book are related, group names, such as theropods and sauropods, are not introduced. Also missing are size scales to help readers visually distinguish among dinosaurs that look very similar. The digital images are clear and engaging, though not especially varied. With a few exceptions, most visuals are large full-body views, with only a few close-ups focusing on specific features or of the dinosaur interactingwith other species. VERDICT Serviceable but unexceptional dinosaur species introductions.

Cole, Taylor. Bloodsucking Leeches. ISBN 9781482439533; ISBN 9781482439519; ISBN 9781482439540.

Honders, Christine. Bloodsucking Birds. ISBN 9781482439410; ISBN 9781482439397; ISBN 9781482439427.

––––. Bloodsucking Fleas and Ticks. ISBN 9781482439458; ISBN 9781482439434; ISBN 9781482439465.

Hunt, Santana. Bloodsucking Mosquitoes. ISBN 9781482439571; ISBN 9781482439557; ISBN 9781482439588.

Nagelhout, Ryan. Bloodsucking Lampreys. ISBN 9781482439496; ISBN 9781482439472; ISBN 9781482439502.

Shea, Therese. Bloodsucking Vampire Bats. ISBN 9781482439618; ISBN 9781482439595; ISBN 9781482439625.

ea vol: 24p. (Real-Life Vampires). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. Gareth Stevens. 2016. lib. ed. $22.60. pap. $8.15. ebk. $22.60.

Gr 3-6 –Strong visual content and straightforward facts capture the particular appeal of animals that feed on blood. Most of the writing focuses on the blood behaviors, with details about life cycles and physical characteristics woven in fairly smoothly with broader bits of information, such as the sea lamprey’s impact on freshwater fish populations. Full-page photographs offer a good variety of gruesome appeal, from vivid close-ups of a sea lamprey’s teeth to vampire bats feasting on a cow’s foot. Blood scenes are informative and not excessive. Effective book design supports the blood-focused themes, with white fonts against all-black backgrounds and a “Fact Bites” tidbit on each spread set on a drippy red text blob. There is some mention of the positive impacts of the parasites, including the medical value of leeches and the role of mosquitoes in the food chain. VERDICT Good mix of fact and photographs to support an intriguing topic.

Feltes-Taylor, Kimberly. Scorpion vs. Centipede: Duel to the Death. ISBN 9781491480663; ISBN 9781491480700.

Klepeis, Alicia Z. Assassin Bug vs. Ogre-Faced Spider: When Cunning Hunters Collide. ISBN 9781491480656; ISBN 9781491480694.

––––. Praying Mantis vs. Giant Hornet: Battle of the Powerful Predators. ISBN 9781491480670; ISBN 9781491480717.

O’Brien, Lindsy. Tarantula vs. Tarantula Hawk: Clash of the Giants. ISBN 9781491480649; ISBN 9781491480687.

ea vol: 32p. (Bug Wars). glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2016. lib. ed. $20.49. ebk. $7.95.

Gr 4-6 –Battling arthropods are introduced with a focus on attributes that would help or hinder in a fight. The animals are rated (on a scale of one to five) on their size, speed, and other attributes. Captioned close-up photographs depict featured body parts fairly effectively. “Fierce Fact” insets provide extra bits of material, usually related to prey and defense. Each book culminates with a present-tense action narrative of the imagined battle. Lively battle descriptions end with a clear winner, who then feasts upon the loser. The fights between scorpion and centipede and tarantula/tarantula hawk are most engaging, since those two pairs are likely combatants in the wild. The others are still intriguing, although referring to the giant hornet as male (“the hornet sends his stinger”) is an unfortunate inaccuracy, as only female hornets have stingers. VERDICT Lively action with useful but not always accurate information.

Gagne, Tammy. Dragonflies Matter. ISBN 9781680780109; ISBN 9781680772272.

––––. Frogs Matter. ISBN 9781680780116; ISBN 9781680772289.

––––. Polar Bears Matter. ISBN 9781680780130; ISBN 9781680772302.

McCarthy, Cecilia Pinto. Monarch Butterflies Matter. ISBN 9781680780123; ISBN 9781680772296.

Murphy, Julie. Coral Reefs Matter. ISBN 9781680780093; ISBN 9781680772265.

Wassall, Erika. Bees Matter. ISBN 9781680780086; ISBN 9781680772258.

ea vol: 48p. (Bioindicator Species). glossary. ABDO. 2016. lib. ed. $22.95. ebk. $35.95.

Gr 4-6 –This well-organized set explains the role of animals in measuring ecosystem health at a level that’s just about right for upper-elementary grades. Opening chapters provide species information and introduce survival threats. Subsequent sections explore threats in more depth, discuss possible effects on both the animals and the environment, and conclude with potential positive solutions. The text covers related topics with clarity, often (but not always) supporting general statements with specific examples. For instance, in Coral Reefs, the sentence “Overfishing…can upset the balance of the whole ecosystem” is followed by research examples of sea urchins in Kenya. Several features encourage readers to explore further, such as excerpts from articles with follow-up questions, suggestions for writing and research activities, and “Perspectives” insets, some of which briefly introduce different viewpoints about environmental impacts. Photos are generally well chosen and include straight animal shots, views of animals interacting with the threats, and scenes of human helpers in action. VERDICT Good introductions to a current and relevant topic.

Gagne, Tammy. Eagles: Built for the Hunt. ISBN 9781491488423.

––––. Hyenas: Built for the Hunt. ISBN 9781491482599.

––––. Lions: Built for the Hunt. ISBN 9781491482605.

––––. Piranhas: Built for the Hunt. ISBN 9781491488409.

ea vol: 24p. (Predator Profiles). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Capstone. 2016. lib. ed. $18.49.

Gr 3-5 –Although some general species information is provided, the strength of this series is its strong focus on the predatory features of each animal. Hunting techniques, physical assets, and feeding behaviors are introduced with direct, concise language. A few specific details, such as size and speed, are woven into the text, while frequent fact boxes add other intriguing bits of content, such as an impressive comparison of the black piranha’s bite to that of an alligator. Photographs capture the predators in action with well-varied selections, including several with appropriate amounts of blood. Hunting practices described in the text are often accompanied by effective pictures depicting the features. Species varieties are sometimes, but not always, identified in photo captions. VERDICT Useful and likely to be popular entries in a continually strong series.

Gregory, Josh. Anacondas. ISBN 9780 531227190; ISBN 9780531225172.

––––. Koalas. ISBN 9780531227206; ISBN 9780531225189.

––––. Meerkats. ISBN 9780531227213; ISBN 9780531225196.

––––. Monarch Butterflies. ISBN 9780531227220; ISBN 9780531225202.

––––. Rats. ISBN 9780531227237; ISBN 9780531225219.

––––. Vultures. ISBN 9780531227244; ISBN 9780531225226.

ea vol: 48p. (Nature’s Children). websites. Children’s Pr. 2016. lib. ed. $28. ebk. $6.95.

Gr 3-5 –Clear, straightforward text describes everything students need for animal research, including physical characteristics, food, life cycles, and effect of humans. Differences in species are noted where relevant, as are the characteristics that distinguish the animal from its relatives; anacondas, for example, are compared to other boas as well as other snakes outside of the family. Notable features of each animal, such as the rat’s intelligence and the migration of the monarch butterfly, are well covered. Eye-catching full-page photographs depict and strongly support textual content. Views of the koala’s opposable thumbs and rival meerkats battling are among many stellar examples. The threatened status of vultures, koalas, and monarch butterflies are well explained, and the human impact on healthier populations such as meerkats is also addressed. VERDICT Excellent and accessible overviews with strong visual appeal.

Higgins, Nadia. Prickly Animals. ISBN 9781620313114; ISBN 9781624963773.

––––. Slimy Animals. ISBN 9781620313060; ISBN 9781624963728.

––––. Stinky Animals. ISBN 9781620313121; ISBN 9781624963780.

Meister, Cari. Armored Animals. ISBN 9781620313084; ISBN 9781624963742.

––––. Electric Animals. ISBN 9781620313091; ISBN 9781624963759.

––––. Horned Animals. ISBN 9781620313107; ISBN 9781624963766.

––––. Undercover Animals. ISBN 9781620313077; ISBN 9781624963735.

––––. Venomous Animals. ISBN 9781620313138; ISBN 9781624963797.

ea vol: 24p. (Back Off! Animal Defenses). glossary. index. photos. websites. Jump! 2016. lib. ed. $25.65. ebk. $17.95.

Gr 1-3 –These introductions to animal defense behaviors feature brief examples from a variety of species. Typically six to eight creatures are shown in each title, though Electric Animals examines only three. Descriptions of defense behaviors generally stick to how animals use them, rather than physiological details. In most cases, readers learn the basics of how each animal defends itself, although in a couple instances, the impact of the feature is overstated. For example, in Venomous Animals, the author states that “one bite [from cobra] and the mongoose would be history,” but mongooses actually have pretty strong resistance to cobra venom. Photographs are clear, and most are full page or larger, but their impact and usefulness vary. Images showing predator and prey interacting are most effective, but these are rare. More typical photos depict the animal on its own, often without showing the defense feature effectively. The lack of animal interaction is especially noticeable when the text shifts to present-tense descriptions of action scenes that aren’t well represented visually. For instance, in Horned Animals, the dramatic meeting between a mountain goat and an eagle is accompanied by a photo of a mountain goat just standing on a hill. VERDICT Serviceable introductions for young readers, with some flaws.

Incredible Insects. ISBN 9781422235249; ISBN 9781422283448.

––––. Mystifying Mammals. ISBN 9781422235256; ISBN 9781422283455.

––––. Peculiar Plants. ISBN 9781422235263; ISBN 9781422283462.

––––. Remarkable Reptiles. ISBN 9781422235270; ISBN 9781422283479.

––––. Shocking Sea Creatures. ISBN 9781422235287; ISBN 9781422283486.

ea vol: 32p. (Wildlife Oddities). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Mason Crest. 2016. lib. ed. $19.95. ebk. $24.95.

Gr 4-6 –A wide range of animal facts are packed into each title of this series. Opening pages discuss the qualities of the broad group covered. Subsequent topical spreads offer interesting facts about several plants or animals within the text, plus captioned photos that often introduce additional creatures. A sidebar inset introduces related information on each spread. Coverage includes key areas such as physical features, behaviors, and survival, with appropriate variation depending on the group, such as mammal parenting. The facts are mostly well chosen and presented with just enough context, although the writing is occasionally a bit disjointed. For instance, in Mystifying Mammals, the author states that [dolphin] front legs have developed into flippers and their back legs have disappeared altogether,” which is a bit confusing without some evolutionary context. Inviting layouts are varied and usually feature three high-quality images. Back matter contains project ideas, questions based on the text, and a list of a dozen more bits of data. VERDICT Solid overviews of broad biological groups, with fascinating facts to draw browsers.

Niver, Heather Moore. Badgers After Dark. ISBN 9780766071681; ISBN 9780766071667; ISBN 9780766071773.

––––. Coyotes After Dark. ISBN 9780766071834; ISBN 9780766071810; ISBN 9780766071841.

––––. Foxes After Dark. ISBN 9780766072145; ISBN 9780766072121; ISBN 9780766072152.

––––. Opossums After Dark. ISBN 9780766073043; ISBN 9780766073029; ISBN 9780766073050.

––––. Skunks After Dark. ISBN 9780766073609; ISBN 9780766073586; ISBN 9780766073692.

––––. Wolves After Dark. ISBN 9780766074187; ISBN 9780766074163; ISBN 9780766074194.

ea vol: 32p. (Animals of the Night). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Enslow. 2016. lib. ed. $25.27. pap. $10.52. ebk. $25.27.

Gr 3-5 –While the animals in this series are all nocturnal, the content covers general animal facts, with just a bit about nighttime behavior. Clear, straightforward sentences provide the data, with a full-page photograph opposite each page of text. Photos are generally effective, with species varieties clearly identified and solid visual support of the facts. Some photos are especially eye-catching, such as a neatly illuminated hanging opossum and a red fox “mousing” in the snow. White print against a starry-sky background supports the nighttime theme of the series, although many of the photographs appear to be daytime scenes. The eyesight of foxes and opossums are noted as assets for nocturnal animals, but the particularities of nighttime behavior are generally not explored in depth. While the language is occasionally unclear, there’s enough interesting information and appealing visual content to offer solid introductions to each animal group. VERDICT Generally enlightening and attractive additions.

Owen, Ruth. Welcome to the Backyard. ISBN 9781910549629; ISBN 9781910549636.

––––. Welcome to the Forest. ISBN 9781910549643; ISBN 9781910549650.

––––. Welcome to the Pond. ISBN 9781910549667; ISBN 9781910549674.

––––. Welcome to the Seashore. ISBN 9781910549681; ISBN 9781910549698.

ea vol: 32p. (Nature’s Neighborhoods: All About Ecosystems). chart. diag. further reading. illus. index. maps. photos. Ruby Tuesday. 2016. lib. ed. $19.95. ebk. $29.95.

Gr 2-4 –These thoughtful overviews provide selected examples of the roles of plants and animals within an ecosystem. Basic facts about the habitat are followed by simple profiles of the creatures that live there. Each spread ends with a boxed question that is answered with the subsequent page turn, which neatly supports the theme of connections within a habitat. A spread on rock-clinging seaweed, for example, leads into one on animals that also stick to rocks, followed by a transition to barnacle eating processes. Continuity is further reinforced by introducing an animal, then returning to it later. In Pond, for example, dragonfly eggs are laid, nymphs appear seven pages later, and they emerge as dragonflies toward the end. Visual support comes from a mixture of full-page photos and smaller insets, many of which include helpful labels. Each title ends with a useful food web diagram. VERDICT Excellent introductions to how ecosystems function.

Pettiford, Rebecca. Arctic Food Chains. ISBN 9781620313008; ISBN 9781624963520.

––––. Desert Food Chains. ISBN 9781620313015; ISBN 9781624963537.

––––. Ocean Food Chains. ISBN 9781620313022; ISBN 9781624963544.

––––. Prairie Food Chains. ISBN 9781620313039; ISBN 9781624963551.

––––. Rain Forest Food Chains. ISBN 9781620313046; ISBN 9781624963568.

––––. Wetlands Food Chains. ISBN 9781620313053; ISBN 9781624963575.

ea vol: 24p. (Who Eats What?). glossary. index. photos. Jump! 2016. lib. ed. $25.65. ebk. $17.95.

Gr 2-4 –This set is dedicated to introducing young readers to the concept of biomes. Opening chapters describe each biome in general terms, followed by brief examples of plants and animals and their respective roles within the chain, with closer looks at specific steps from producer to decomposer. The Prairie Food Chains sequence, for instance, includes grass, a prairie dog, a badger, and worms. A second example presents four horizontal images of steps in a chain, with numbers and arrows showing the progression. This varied repetition, supported by examples, builds on the main concept simply but effectively. The absence of more complex topics, such as food webs, matches the deliberately basic level of learning. Well-chosen photos depict hunting and eating without too much gore and feature helpful labels of the animal’s food chain role plus a simple food chain diagram. VERDICT Basic but well-conceived introductions to the topic.

West, David. Desert Animals. ISBN 9781625880703; ISBN 9781625885524.

––––. Freshwater Animals. ISBN 9781625880710; ISBN 9781625885531.

––––. Jungle Animals. ISBN 9781625880727; ISBN 9781625885548.

––––. Mountain Animals. ISBN 9781625880734; ISBN 9781625885555.

––––. Ocean Animals. ISBN 9781625880758; ISBN 9781625885562.

––––. Polar Animals. ISBN 9781625880741; ISBN 9781625885579.

ea vol: 24p. (Safari Sam’s Wild Animals). photos. Smart Apple. 2016. lib. ed. $18.95. ebk. $27.10.

Gr 2-4 –Grouped by habitat, these profiles examine each animal with three levels of textual information per spread. A few large-font sentences provide the basics about the animal. A row of colored icons are captioned with small-print data on five areas: food, location, size, classification, and “Interesting Facts.” Finally, a cartoon illustration of a character named Safari Sam offers one more tidbit. These are all laid out around a single large photo of the animal, neatly set off against a solid white background. It’s an inviting look that presents an appealing level of written and visual material without daunting younger readers. Though some of the data relates directly to the animal’s environment, the focus is on animals, rather than habitat. While the facts stick to broad views of the animal group, many captions identify the species of the pictured animals. VERDICT High appeal for browsers.

Several of the titles above address animals and ecosystems with considerable success. For younger readers, Jump!’s “Who Eats What” focuses on food chain basics, while Ruby Tuesday’s “Nature’s Neighborhoods” explores broader habitat relationships. Both are strong choices that build knowledge at age-appropriate levels. ABDO’s “Bioindicator Species” takes a more in-depth look at relationships between animals and environments that should engage older students. In Smart Apple’s “Safari Sam’s Wild Animals,” the habitat grouping is secondary to the animal facts, but these are introduced with considerable visual appeal. The allure of the more repulsive aspects of animal life are well represented by Capstone’s flawed but intriguing “Bug Wars” and attractive and well-written Gareth Stevens’s “Real-Life Vampires.” Established series do not disappoint: Capstone’s newest “Predator Profile” titles match the high quality seen in previous books, while Children’s Press’s “Nature’s Children” continues to set high standards for writing and visual content of single species titles.

Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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